I went to several concerts in early March; I’ve been lazy about reviewing them but they deserve mention. So here are three quick reviews in one:

March 1, 2009: Donald Berman at Le Poisson Rouge

Berman (at left) is a terrific pianist, and this was overall a very solid program. There were several works by Mark Wingate, all of which were good–they sometimes got a bit generic, but much of the time were fresh and interesting. Wingate’s tape piece Welcome to Medicare is brilliant. He took recordings of Medicare’s already fairly byzantine automated telephone system, then re-cut and processed it to make a sort of bureaucratic limbo where the recorded voices aren’t helpful at all and seem to mock and toy with you in song. Some nice pieces by Eric Moe, including an odd experiment where the piano part plays along with a very generic and cheesy drum machine. Moe was apparently challenging himself to see if he could make it work, and he succeeded, although honestly the piece probably would have been better without the drum machine, with a less cheesy drum machine, or with a live drummer. Eric Chaselow‘s Due (Cinta)mani was a very tightly constructed piece for piano and tape which reminded me of a modernized Davidovsky Synchronism. David Rakowski‘s two offerings were gorgeous, especially Chase for piano and celeste, which featured delicate lines following each other around on the two keyboards.

March 8, 2009: “Live in the Limo”

This was an interesting experiment on the relationship between the audience and the performers and the nature of the performance space. As part of New York’s Armory Show, the AC Institute presented a set of 30-minute concerts inside a limosine. On March 8, there were six excursions featuring a piece by Joseph Di Ponio, performed by Laura Barger (toy piano) and Benjamin Robison (violin). The piece consisted of a stack of cards with instructions and musical materials, and the audience was to pass the cards forward to the musicians in what ever order they wanted. It was a cute idea, and the music was quite nice (although as with any piece like this it was hard to tell how much of that was the composer and how much was the improvisational ability of the performers.

Unfortunately, effect of the music and the experiment of the venue were seriously undermined by the activities of the artist who rode along. I didn’t catch her name, but she handed out daisies and made all of the eight or so audience members play “he love me, he loves me not” as a group. It wasn’t a very interesting, and I was so distracted by keeping track of whose turn it was and whether we were on “he loves me” or “he loves me not” that I couldn’t pay proper attention to the music, and certainly couldn’t tell what effect the open form and the random order of the cards was. I passed my card forward when I had a free moment, rather than when I thought it might be an interesting time to do it, and I suspect the other audience members did the same. The point of the cards was to enhance the interactivity of the relationship between the musicians and the audience, but the artist was hogging so much attention that I didn’t feel connected with the performers at all.

I feel bad for the performers and especially for the composer, who had clearly put some thought and effort into taking advantage of the nature of the venue, and I would really like to have the experience again without the distractions.

March 10, 2009: Sequitur at Merkin Concert Hall

The New York based chamber group Sequitur has a good reputation, but I had never heard them before. They lived up to the reputation. The music on this program wasn’t easy (the first piece only had eight musicians, but they brought in hotshot contemporary music conductor Brad Lubman anyway) and the performances were all excellent. The theme of the concert was music for chamber ensemble and voices, and soprano Tony Arnold and mezzos Rachel Calloway and Abigail Fischer carried each of the pieces off with panache. The program consisted of three pieces: Comala Suite no. 2 by Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (text excerpted from Mexican author Juan Preciado’s novel Pedro Paramo), The Cinnamon Peeler by Donald Crockett (poem by Michael Ondaatje), and New Andean Songs by Gabriela Lena Frank (text assembled from anonymous and indigenous Peruvian poems). All of the pieces were good, and all had some wonderful sections, but unfortunately all of them were also a bit too long and felt padded with filler. It’s too bad, because each of the pieces is a few judicious cuts away from superb.

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